Neat packages

 

“What stood out most about your visit to my church?” Jackson, the young minister of the Buzz, asks me.

“The young, good-looking crowd,” I say. I realize that’s probably not the answer he was looking for, but it’s the truth and I’m relieved when he laughs. Apparently this youthful congregation has posed some challenges.

When I was visiting, before he started his talk on Nehemiah, Jackson mentioned his previous sermon series, which had addressed the topic of love and dating. He briefly reiterated to the congregation that while romantic relationships are healthy and good, the search for one shouldn’t be their motivation for attending church. Once he said that, I had to admit I was picking up a certain vibe I’d never considered: Jesus as matchmaker. The fact that services are held in the early evening may add to the romantic ambiance.

“…besides that, your literature is so….” I search for the best way to describe the difference between the leaflets at the Buzz versus those from many other churches.

I was struck by how artfully they were put together. It’s not just that the church has its own logo, it is how the text and the graphics were presented in fresh fonts and interesting colors on glossy cuts of paper in varied sizes with just the right amount of white space to make it all “pop.” Many other churches cram black words on a white 8.5 x 11 page folded in half. In fact, it’s the quality of the Buzz materials that made me think they must be backed by an organization with deep pockets.

“Slick” sounds too derogatory.

“….well designed,” I decide to tell him.

He explains that one staff member has a background in graphic design. It seems almost a requirement these days for an “emergent” church: minister and graphic designer. People who have grown up since the 70’s have such a keen eye. Almost no aspect of our lives isn’t tastefully presented, from websites to wine labels. Today’s average Joe is a sharp-sighted consumer—of Christianity and anything else.

But it’s more than just aesthetics. So much content is available to us in both design elements and words. We prefer it filtered and arranged. We want the main point, but we also want the option for more. We’ve grown accustomed to the way the internet works: stay with the headline and synopsis or click to go deeper. We decide. As consumers, we have grown accustomed to the ability to navigate the information and, in some way, to participate in its presentation.

It’s a new way of moving through the world, one that can permeate even the smallest tasks—like singing. At the Buzz, the band played one of the same Christian rock songs I’d heard elsewhere, Your Love Never Fails, but in a slightly different way. They branched out to more complicated verses, but they returned to the lines of the chorus—Your Love never fails/Your love never changes/You stay the same through the ages—so many times that even I was able to sing along easily. Depending on knowledge and comfort level, a person can dive into the verses or just stay with the simple refrain to which the band returned until we were all of singing it over and over again, in an endlessly comforting loop.

Yet, I wonder about the downside of information that’s presented in such neat packages. Does having the path you tread prepped and prettied diminish the sense of discovery? Are we singing along on autopilot?

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58 thoughts on “Neat packages

  1. Well packaged…………..mmmhhhhhh..

    I don’t know if this has anything to do with anything, but here goes a personal opinion: Christianity ought to get you out of your personal comfort zone, not be packaged so that IT is in YOURS.

    Point in case – Sunday’s choir practice involved getting a seldom sung hymn polished and ready for singing on the 29th – the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles. The reason it is seldom sung is that it’s about a sentiment that is not particularly popular in even our liturgical church and not AT ALL popular in what I’ve encountered in the emergent church – the Peace of God. Why not popular? Because the hymn notes how the fishermen of Galilee answered Jesus’ call and ended martyred. The peace that Jesus promised was a peace that often means pain, difficulty, hardship and even death in THIS world. Ask some of the Christians in Nigeria today and they will tell you all about it.

    We tend not to want to be reminded of that peace and what it can entail – even that it can entail acknowledging that part of our being Christian is that we must go where God leads us, not where we want. Our choir director said “We are singing this for two reasons. One, to keep alive hymns of the church that are often neglected and forgotten and two, to remember the message in it, however uncomfortable.” Or words to that effect.

    Forgive me, but I have REALLY, REALLY serious discomfort with packaging. As in marketing. As in polished. There is a difference between the ancient, beautiful dance of the liturgy in and of itself and the slickness of a well packaged market presentation.

    My prejudice is showing, I know, but I’m talking gut level, instinctive discomfort here.

    Anyway,
    Yours in Christ

    • Hi Patti:
      I wrote my comment below before I read what you wrote above. It seems to apply. I agree with you, but I don’t think we can avoid packaging. I think we all do it, even when it’s not at a conscious level. Where the church is concerned, I think it’s problematic when the church (staff) is seeking to be “user friendly” without thinking about honoring God. Here’s where I’ve had to exercise a bit of grace: many church do what appears to us like slick packaging when they in their own minds are seeking to honor God. That said, I’m reminded that, as I read Corinna’s account of “Vibrant Faith,” I felt like the pastor was packaging himself more than God. I may need to back off a bit and have a little grace for him, too. 🙂
      As far as “emergent” churches are concerned, I’ve been to some and read about some, and realize that, while they seem to be packaging themselves to be marketable to youth, I think they are just reflecting our young culture that is turning away from much of the church as being irrelevant. They seem to be consciously shying away from emphasizing “doctrine.” I think what they are reacting to is the heavy emphasis on correct “doctrine” evident in many churches that otherwise show little sign of spiritual life. I’m with them on that!

  2. Hi Corinna:
    You’ve raised some really deep issues that are too often lost on our consumerist society. That some churches seem to consciously appeal to the consumer mindset is often criticized, but in itself is a symptom of how consumer-driven we are, increasingly, in much of our lives. We all “package” ourselves–even Jesus did, I think (no attribution here of superficial motivation). It’s part of who we are as humans in trying to relate to others in some engaging way. I think the answer to your two questions at the very end is yes…and no. If all we do is pay attention to the bread and circuses offered for our entertainment, then we will lose (maybe have lost) our ability to think and discern and gain the wisdom that is the object of your quest.
    A related thought: I’ve been reading an essay by Nicholas Carr that was first published in the Atlantic called, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” It provides much thought-provoking material and is a good reminder to those of us who grew up able to engage a book for long hours at a time. (I got his essay on my Kindle, and he also has a book-length version called, The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains.)

  3. Walt, I agree with you in essence on everything you say…….

    My difficulty, I think, is in trying to figure out and understand why young people think the Church is irrelevant today, to begin with???. It’s only irrelevant if YOU make it that way…because Church is what YOU bring to it. I’m not talking about God…I’m talking about Church as the Body of Christ, i.e. it’s people.

    I agree that I should have the Grace to accept that much of what I call slick packaging really is their attempt to honor God. But that can be a slippery slope, which is why I think I distrust the concept so much.

    Good to talk with you again.

    Yours in Christ

    • HI back! Good to talk with you, too, Patti…
      I agree: Church is what each individual brings to it, when they are with the people. What I had in mind when I said irrelevant, was several things: the common stereotype (if you will) of the American church today as self-righteous, hypocritical, moralistic, and legalistic. It is NOT that, to be sure, but that is the perception among a wide swath of American people. Part of that is due to the over-politicization of the church and its association with the “Christian right” since the 1970s. While I agree with some of the stands reflected there, I think we have lost sight of what we as a church should be about: loving God,reflecting Jesus and making apprentices to him, and loving others. Our energies to change the culture might better be directed more to helping individuals know Jesus–he can take care of the rest. Statistically, we in the church are losing over half of our young people (I seem to recall the figure being about 60%). This indicates to me that the church is also what we parents are making of it (or not).
      Walt

      • quick ps: when I said that the church is NOT the four things I mentioned, I have to acknowledge that there ARE elements within the church that are just that way. One of the fastest growing groups in this past decade has been precisely that way. I was involved with it for as long, and it took a few years to really see what was happening. I think part of the problem there was (is) its overly intellectual approach to the Bible and rigid doctrinal stance. I think I once referred to them in some comment here as “ministers who hold up a mirror of condemnation” to their congregants, or some such words. Irrelevant may not be the proper term….

  4. Well, here’s my two cent’s worth (our computer system at work is down so I have a few minutes to ponder this entry and Patti and Walt’s response). If you really wanted to take the “marketing” issue to its limit, I suppose you could say any denomination is a brand being marketed, since, through its doctrine or theology, it differentiates itself from all the other denominations. I think the danger comes when the brand takes precedence over the message. When I was a Roman Catholic, we almost never referred to ourselves merely as “Christian”, but as “Catholic Christian:, as if the “Catholic” part was more important than being Christian. Any congregation that’s centered around the magnetism of its pastor, or the music, or the physical setting, is not centered on the right things.

    Modern churches, be they mainline, emergent, fundamentalist, or whatever, face a double-edged challenge. As Patti said, there has to be a sense of the timeless or transcendent when you call yourself a Christian. At the same time, churches must work within the times they exist. The social, political, communications, and economic issues we face are radically different from what people dealt with 150 or even 30 years ago. To stay relevant, churches must address these issues using modern tools. If I wanted to, I could probably listen to a dozen sermons from a dozen different denominations over the Web, and get a dozen different messages. As Christians, we have a responsibility to stay connected to Jesus original message, and filter out the “marketing” when it conflicts with His message.

    One idea most of us agree on is that being a Christian is supposed to change us in some way. Its easy to forget just how radical Jesus’ message was 2,000 years ago. One of the overarching themes of His message was that change starts with the individual; we must ”become like little children” and open ourselves to Him. Its our change of heart that’s supposed to be reflected in how we treat each other and how we approach God. One of the ways we fell changed is in the way we worship. For people like Patti and me, the timelessness and dignity of a liturgical church reinforces the idea we are dong something special when we worship. For others, it’s a modern service with contemporary music. As long as the message is clear that its about God, the form makes little difference. You should feel different in church than you do when you go to the movies or the mall.

    I was a little disappointed in the emergent church Corrina described. From what I read, the emergent movement is meant to move us out of our comfort zone, just as Chris intended. If its really just a new way to peddle the humdrum, comfortable message that lets you believe you’re a Christian without a call to action, then I think I’m in for a letdown.

  5. Patti said:

    “My difficulty, I think, is in trying to figure out and understand why young people think the Church is irrelevant today, to begin with???. It’s only irrelevant if YOU make it that way…because Church is what YOU bring to it. I’m not talking about God…I’m talking about Church as the Body of Christ, i.e. it’s people.”

    Walt said:

    “While I agree with some of the stands reflected there, I think we have lost sight of what we as a church should be about: loving God, reflecting Jesus and making apprentices to him, and loving others. Our energies to change the culture might better be directed more to helping individuals know Jesus–he can take care of the rest.”

    Yes, yes, yes! Reading these two messages as one, you can see how they’re linked. Relevance, faith, and action must come from the individual’s heart! I also think Patti’s and Walt’s comments underscore some of our societal changes. Concerning Patti’s comment, there’s a bias against what is perceived as “old-fashioned”. Why go to the stodgy traditional church when you can go the flashy new one with the laser show and the casual doctrine? Many mega-churches and their offspring have convinced people they’re better than mainline denominations simply because they’re newer. As a corollary, and in line with what Walt said, there’s been a loss of perspective. To many new churches, action equals political power. Controlling the political agenda is the way to spread God’s word. The problem is, politics deals in shades of gray, while religion tends to be black and white.

    The causes of both issues are legion. Many mainline churches have failed to reach out and show young people why they’re relevant in today’s world. The era of a child automatically adopting his or her parents’ religion are over, and churches can’t depend on a batch of freshly-minted Episcopalians, Catholics, or Methodists any more. In an uncertain world, the apparently clear moral imperatives of conservative Christianity may be viewed as a moral anchor by some people. And if a moral is absolute, the political structure should support it.

    I think the biggest failure has been on the part of those of us who are parents. We’ve failed to educate our kids on the deeper meaning behind our choice of denomination (probably because it was never explained to us as children). When you have no understanding of the meaning of the words behind the liturgy, its much easier to be attracted to the unstructured mega-church a few blocks away, especially if all your friends go there. If you’ve never been schooled in the vital role separation of church and state has played in our nation’s history, and that it, in fact, safeguards religious liberty, you will never understand the danger of mixing politics and religion.

    If we expect the current generation to live Christ’s challenge, then they need to understand the word “Christian” has deeper meaning than cool music and a slick message.

  6. I think it says a lot about the shift we see going on in the world with the information age of iphones and ipads and apps. and the immediate availability of internet information. Branding in business with special letterhead and graphics. The world is calling the church to step forward into a new era and it’s hard for us older ones or tweens to be willing to catch up. We want what is familiar and I suspect it will eventually become as if we have a desire for the Model T as opposed to a Lexus. Change is difficult especially as it pulls and tugs. Somewhere in my Facebook travels someone sent a youtube funny of an older woman returning to the workforce and as she typed she automatically reached up to return a carriage only to slap the computer onto the floor. Nevertheless, I suspect there are still enough choices in churches to select the one we’re comfortable with, if not forever, at least until our needs change enough to move us on.

  7. Hi Frank…Hi Tim!

    Something that struck me as I read all of our posts is that, lol, you can tell we are parents and you can tell we are older! Tim, I most especially agree with your last comment “If we expect the current generation to live Christ’s challenge………”

    Frank, I have to disagree with you on something and I will try to do it respectfully. While what we are discussing is the church’s current place in the world, one of the things we have to remember is that the World is NOT who decides what and where is the message. In fact, if the World is the one deciding it, then it almost automatically makes it suspect. My understanding of Jesus’ message and his life is that being a follower of his pretty much puts you swimming upstream and against most of what the World represents and wants.

    That being said, I agree with you that the Church must “step forward into a new era”, but only in finding ways to effectively represent and put forward the still unchanged teaching of Jesus. His message doesn’t vary. Ways to get it out may only vary mechanically. Because, as Walt said, our most effective way of spreading Jesus’ message is living it.

    All I can tell you is from my own experience. In the church I attend now, I may disagree (and often do up front and in your face) with my priest, on politics. And sometimes even on theology (he did not appreciate my comment that the very first Apostle was Mary Magdelene, as far as I was concerned). I once responded to a friend at church when she asked me why I didn’t attend Foyer Dinners (meals in individuals homes) that if I did, the subject of politics would come up and there would be blood on the floor!! All of that said, I continue in my church – yes – because of the beauty of the liturgy, but mostly because they “do” Body of Christ properly. Church members help one another when they can; money is given freely to the Pastor’s Discretionary Fund for the Priest to help when and where he can; Food Angels make sure that many a parishioner in physical difficulty or recovering from surgery, or sometimes even just hungry, is fed. THAT is church.

    And if we don’t do THAT on a small, internal scale, of what use is there in socially relevant activity in a church?

    It all starts with ONE. One person/one Jesus. Very old-fashioned, bottom line stuff. How far can you ’emerge’ from the Sermon on the Mount??

    I’m aware that I’m very tunnel visioned about this, and that what I’m saying may seem simplistic. But what can be more simple than what Mother Theresa said “When you wash a leper, you are washing Jesus Christ.”?? That is Church. It doesn’t have to be made pretty, or up to date, or even ‘relevant’. It just is.

    I’ll shut up now.

    Yours in Christ.

    • Hi Patti. You’re so right on here. I might express some reservation about Mary being officially called an “Apostle”–but only because she never formally received that title. I find it interesting, however, that she was indeed the first “sent one” (which is what “Apostle” means, after all), especially because she was a woman. I say this because, within that culture, not only were women (and children, btw) seen as inferior, but they could not legally testify in court. Jesus trumped them all and elevated the status of women by sending women with the very first good news message!! 🙂

      • pps: just an added thought: that women became the first witnesses to the resurrection not only says a lot about Jesus, but it also lends veracity to the New Testament accounts, especially the resurrection. After all, considering the position of women in that day and culture, what self-respecting Jewish man would allow THAT detail. hmmmm….

  8. He did indeed, Walt. But you should have seen the look on my priest’s face when I said it. lol. I am a serious trial to him, poor man. 🙂

    okiebuddhist – good one!

  9. My family and I went to a very fundamental church for years and started to see it evolve when the whole “Purpose Driven Church” movement came about. What I saw happen was more entertainment to draw in the crowds and watering down of The Word. The music gradually shifted from hymns to pretty much all praise and worship music (or as the older members in the congregations called it, 7-11 music….songs with 7 words that you sing 11 times). It was very divisive to the church. One Super Bowl Sunday, they actually had high-school cheerleaders run down the aisles doing cartwheels and flips in order to hype the crowd up for a Super Bowl party with an evangelistic message being held at the church that evening. We left the church about a year later. I agree that churches should be aware of the culture around them and not be afraid to change some things in order to appeal to the younger generation. However, solid preaching from the Bible needs to remain intact

    • Jo–

      Please, please, please tell me they didn’t have cross-shaped pom-poms. LOL! That’s a perfect example of the marketing being WAY more important than the message.

  10. Jo L, you are of much greater patience than I, if you managed to last for a year after that! I only lasted a few months at the Lutheran Church we had attended for 6 years, here in Charlotte, after the progression down the path that led to the didgeridoo. I came in one Sunday, all unprepared for the treat in store for us. Two preteens were up at the altar, giving us a lovely exhibition of their “Liturgical Dance”. Try to imagine Isadora Duncan style performed by not particularly talented 10 and 12 year old girls. AT THE ALTAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! As a portion of the service! When I tried to express what I felt about it to the pastor, I told hm that the nearest thing I could liken it to would have been seeing a nice Golden Calf placed on the altar and danced around.

    I realize that there are many who simply don’t understand or share my real feelings of horror at what I consider sacrilege. The pastor, and a goodly portion of the congregation pushing for more ‘inclusiveness’ didn’t. David and I finally just left. Which is why we are now Anglicans. Did I mention that I am a fuddy/duddy Anglican (Yes, Patti, we know!)

    What I just wrote makes me realize how strongly I do feel about ‘marketing’. That it can border on the sacrilegious, and often borders on just poor taste. Our roots are, after all, Jewish. And in Judaism, we are talking about a religion where the room in which God dwells is so sacred that your average mortal never set foot in it. (As I understand it) Somehow, even if you add in the lack of those restrictions in Christianity, somehow the mind boggles at the thought of cheerleaders and pom poms running around God’s house.

    This idea of packaging seems to be rather inextricable mixed with the idea of contemporary vs. traditional, doesn’t it?

    Tim, my husband just hooted with laughter when I read him your post. 🙂

    Yours in Christ

  11. Hi Patti, et al—

    I may not be as old as I sound (I’m 52), and growing up in So Cal, I’m used to living in a diverse society. Although personally pretty conservative, I lean left politically and socially. However, I think church is a different matter. As I’m sure I’ve said before, when you’re in church, you should feel like you’re somewhere special, where you can concentrate on God. Rather than being an isolated event for an hour each Sunday, I carry that unique feeling out the door and into the world—that’s what being a Christian means. For me, the specialness is reinforced by the ancient rhythms of the liturgical service. For others, it could very well be a more contemporary or less formal setting. Regardless, it absolutely has to remind you that you are somewhere “set apart” and need to let go of worldly things for a while. Turning worship into theatre cheapens it into just another visceral experience. And, just like its easy to switch movies in a multi-plex, it makes it all the more easy to switch churches if you’re not getting the thrill you want from your current one.

  12. I’d like to bring another perspective to this discussion. All that has been said here about the desire not to weaken the message of the Bible or distract people from it, or even undercut the message with a production is right on. We are there to worship God, to learn what God has to say, and to be strengthened for the week. The core thing needs to be the core thing. Cheerleaders and pom poms — well, that’s just “out there.” (Lord, help us!)

    Each generation brings its gifts and ways of doing things, as Frank pointed out very well. Before the 1,500s, I don’t suppose there was a bulletin in church — who would spend the time each week to copy them out? Besides, most people could not read. With the invention of the printing press, stories previously conveyed orally were now available to the masses (not just the rich) and the world quickly became a world of print.

    Fast forward to the 21st Century. Look at how the world’s messages are portrayed in the media. For the sake of argument, let’s take a black and white “print” of songs (on the wall) vs. use of media art. Or literature produced by a church, as Corinna said, on an 8.5×11, all text, no pictures or color. Is it truly more spiritually relevant in plain text?

    What if you centered the service around the biblical passage, and selected both hymns and praise songs that enhanced that message and illustrated them on the wall using creative art. Would that be manipulative or unspiritual? For instance, take the story of Samuel’s call (1 Samuel 3). It’s a very dark time in the nation, the voice of God is rare, and God calls a young boy, who is helped to hear the call by a ninety-year-old nearly blind man. That’s the story. You sing two contemporary songs, “He Knows My Name” and “Here I Am, Lord.” And you sing the hymns, “I Am Thine, O Lord” and “Be Thou My Vision.” The choir sings, “We Walk By Faith and Not By Sight.” You have a cross-generational mix of music. Everything is illustrated with pictures in a powerpoint.

    I don’t know, but would you consider that marketing? Or is it what the 21st century brings to the table.

    Certainly there’s POOR judgment out there. (You have pointed that out!) But it doesn’t have to be. Art can be used very effectively. It does touch the emotions, but emotions are part of our being. As for me, personally, I’m not for throwing out the hymns because they offer a depth of discipleship that is truly significant. I like the idea of “both/and.”

    One more thought . . . those who value worship, I’m sure you will agree. Just go outside on a clear dark night, on top of a mountain and look up at the Milky Way. You don’t need a thing. God beats all our technology to heck with His own light show. And you will be lifted in awe at the majesty.

    Have a blessed week — and go worship somewhere. 🙂

  13. What an interesting discussion. I love all the thoughts racing around my head. This may not make much sense, but here goes. Patti mentions the Holy of Holies, the room in the Temple where no one could go, as a point about keeping our Christianity sacred; Tim talks about timeless and dignified worship. The concept of the sanctuary, the “smells and bells”, the solemnity and ritual — doesn’t this come more from Judaism than Jesus? The curtain blocking human access to the Holy of Holies ripped from TOP to bottom (not bottom to top as would be normal) which tells me God, not man, was making it obsolete.

    Where did Jesus encourage his followers to keep up the sacrifices and other temple rituals? Where did Jesus even encourage his followers to be part of any religion? Where did Jesus try to start a denomination?

    Based on what the Bible tells us about Jesus, he was about changing the hearts of individuals, not about organizing individuals into denominations. The first believers met together in homes, they lived and shared in common. I think Jesus is still about changing the hearts of individuals, and I’m not at all sure he’s pleased with our denominations, our holding him at arm’s length with structure and performance requirements. I know quite a few things that do please him, but I do not think our “neat packages” do.

    This is hard to talk about, because I’m still trying to find my way, trying to articulate the unease inside about institutional religion. I am not meaning to offend anyone, and if I have offended, please tell me so I can apologize. I know there is some “essential wisdom” that’s been passed down over time by religion, as Corinna’s mission statement suggests. Separating that from the fluff, the style, the traditions, the trends, the hype, the lies — that mining process — that’s what excites me about Corinna’s quest and these discussions. Sometimes I get the picture that we’re sifting and panning for gold here, just like old grizzled prospectors (oops, there’s another age dig!)

    Shelley

    • Hi Shelley, a couple of things caught my attention in your comment here. Your mention of people meeting in homes for worship reminded me about the Mennonites. Our daughter trained as a licensed Midwife in northern Ontario and ended up going to help with many home births. She spent a lot of time talking to the women as it was sometimes a long-drawn-out-procedure. Their custom is to hold their Sunday meetings in their homes, with each family taking turns hosting the service. It eliminates the need for a church building (although they sometimes do build churches) and I have often thought that would be so much more ‘community minded’. Obviously, this group of people really clings to the ‘pioneer spirit’ of the first worshippers! (not to mention they travel to the ‘service’ in their horse-drawn buggies!)
      I, too, am enjoying ‘mining’ and have found some real ‘nuggets’ of information! Not to mention the people who appear to have hearts of pure gold. . .

  14. Ginger and Shelly

    Yes, churches do indeed need to change with the times and take advantage of new technology. Ginger—now I have a mental picture of dozens of monks writing down advertisements for the local Chinese fast food place in the back of my weekly bulletin! LOL!

    The printing press revolutionized religion because, for the first time, people could read the Bible for themselves instead of having it read to (and interpreted for) them. In a way, it sparked the Reformation because the average person could read and personally understand Scripture. In the same way, the Internet can spread the message faster and farther than we can imagine. And we should remember, the music Patti and I may consider “traditional” was quite controversial in its time. I’m sure there were people who thought singing “Amazing Grace” was scandalous compared to “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. Our rector (priest in charge of the parish) is a woman, something unheard of less than 40 years ago. I think churches need to adopt the appropriate technology and methodology to spread the message, but the message must be central. I’m sure most teenage boys weren’t thinking about the Gospel when the cheerleaders were bouncing down the aisles of Jo’s church. (I bet they had giant “J”’s stitched on their sweaters).

    Shelly—no offense taken at all. I know lots of good people turned off by institutionalized religion. One of the reasons we left the Roman Catholic Church was that it seemed the rules were getting to be more important than the message. Its interesting you mention the Temple veil tearing, symbolizing the direct connection between God and His people. I don’t know if you’ve seen a traditional Anglican Missal Mass (probably not, its not your typical Episcopal service), but during the Eucharistic prayer, the acolyte kneels at the altar and holds on to the priest’s vestment. It symbolizes that direct connection from Jesus to His people; the priest is merely a vessel of His message. Some denominations define the “priesthood of the people”, in that we are all members of the Body of Christ. Those who’ve taken priestly vows have a place and a function, but it’s to enhance the connection, not get in the way.

    I’ve found being in a traditional denomination has helped me on my journey. Others benefit from different structures. All Jesus said was “wherever two or more of you gather in my name, I will be there”. That’s certainly not a mandate for any specific structure, but that we join together somehow in worship. We used to have a priest who did church services with all the “bells and smells”. But he also loved the outdoors, and when he would take a group camping, he’d bring an altar the size of a notebook, and say Mass with the absolute minimum of accouterments. To him, like you, the outdoors could be a cathedral.

    BTW, I agree about seeing God in the universe. For me, it was a visit to Yellowstone. The colors and shapes were absolutely awe-inspiring. And to think God created it for us to enjoy!

  15. Yes. To all of you.

    Shelley, you are right. As Tim said, about the most that Jesus said was “Whenever two or more of you are gathered” and, of Communion, “This is my body, this is my blood.” Much of what we do has ‘evolved.’ And much of it could and can be simplified.

    Yest you will find old, old paintings in very early churches that show people gathering and ‘praising’. The earliest gatherings included repetition of psalms as hymns. I’ve always been interested in the early church, and I’ve read several books on the structure of the Liturgy. It really is very closely aligned to instructions and activities used during the first three centuries, and there is connection between each formalized, ritualized action and the Scriptural references and instructions. The smells and bells – those connect with some of the more esoteric things scripturally, but they do connect.

    In truth, the only essential act of worship is………to worship.

    I worship best in a strictly formulated, formalized and formal setting. What that does for me is set me on the path, in line with and adding my voice to, thousands of years of people saying almost exactly the same thing, at the same time and in the same way. That is a power plug for me and it recharges me. Yet again, when I say the one of the oldest known prayers “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me.”, I have equally worshiped. Inside my head.

    Your know , some of what we are talking about here involves the concept of ‘simple’ versus ‘simplistic’, Ok….to become as a child and come hurtling up to Jesus, arms outstretched, that is ‘simple’. We can do the same thing as adults – witness Taize, which is very, very simplified and childlike liturgical chanting. As opposed to gymnastics and 7-11 (loved it, Jo L.) songs. One is feeling in our hearts the joy of childhood trust and rebirth as a child in God. The other is being an adult pretending to try to worship as a child. I don’t know if I’m making myself clear, but that’s the closest I can come.

    I love my bells and smells. But it’s not the only way I worship. And Shelley, no offense taken AT ALL. Sometimes it’s hard to be involved in institutionalized religion. Alas, even the best of churches and worship services and Bodies of Christ are made up of people. Human beings who don’t always do it right or well or even honestly. It’s just important to try and not throw that baby (Christ) out with the bathwater (Church). However you find your way around that, more power to you. Your description of Corinna’s blog and our responses as ‘mining’ was and is apt.

    Yours in Christ

  16. Ginger and Tim, I so heartily agree that “you don’t need a thing” to be lifted up, struck with awe and wonder, by nature. Anyone, anywhere can worship in that church, and I think God meant it to be that way. I’ve always had this surety that God wants to be, and is, available to every person. This includes the 16 year old, brain damaged from birth with a 6-month old mentality; this includes the Alzheimers patient who has lost all her words; this includes the North Korean adult who was born in prison and lives there still….imagine the human being least accessible to “church” the way we know it, and then know that God has a way of being in relationship with that human being. Any god who restricts access to himself only to those who are able to think, reason, feel and act is not a universal God. Yes, “wherever two or more are”, but also “I will never leave YOU nor forsake YOU.”

  17. Wow…this is a very thoughtful discussion….
    It seems that what we are all addressing is: what it means to worship God in the church. I’d like to focus on a couple things:

    One is simply to mention that the “church” is not a building. That’s pretty obvious to most serious believers, but I want to reiterate it because it’s easy to focus on what goes on inside a building rather than who is there: God and his people. God doesn’t live in the building, of course, (I suppose he might get lonely, then) but he does live in his people, so when they come together, he is there, just like Tim mentioned Jesus saying, “Where two or three gather together in my name, there I am in the midst”.

    The other thing I was thinking about: Often the chief subjects of discussions like this are the music, the message, or me worshiping God (which can become for me at times as though I were the Lone Ranger). But I can worship God sitting here at the computer talking with you folks, I can go out in the back yard, in my car, in nature, in church, etc. The church gathering should facilitate our worship by all the means we’ve been discussing. In some churches I’ve visited, the service was all about the music, in some it was all about the message or something else. The point, I think, of the various exhortations in the Bible to worship is that it is about corporate worship, gathering together as the Body of Christ and doing all those things together, over time. A commonly heard Christianese term is “fellowship”….and often used to refer to something that people do at the coffee and donut table before going home, or when they share something to eat together. But fellowship (it comes from a Greek word we used to talk about a lot in the 70s: koinonia). means sharing in common, and is used in Scripture to refer to the fact we are, together, sharers in Christ as God’s children by the Holy Spirit. It can include any activity as well (including donuts 🙂 )

    I think this really hit home to me in the last couple years. We made a decision not to go back to a church we had been involved in for almost 30 years, We left in part because the message became the center of everything, and doctrine was lifted above all else, and eventually became a mirror of condemnation held up constantly before the entire congregation. Rather than try to “straighten people out” (I was a leader there), we just left after helping with a church plant. God is not very fond of people who divide his people, and we would have had to leave anyway, so we left quietly. We have thought often and agonized over that because we were so close to so many people. These are people whom we love, who have loved us, and with whom we’ve done so much as a community. (We are still close to some of them, but not as part of that particular congregation.) In the church that we have been going to for the past three years, we are starting to feel more a part, but we still feel like outsiders at times.

    My point, I suppose, is that “church” is not mainly about me as an individual worshiping God, but it’s about a community of worship.

    Lest I leave you all on a bummer of a note, here’s something a bit more cheery about music: I’m told that that staid old standard of traditional churches (except Catholic, of course), is Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is our God” was adapted by the reformer from a bar room song…. 🙂

    Walt

  18. Walt, you would bring that up!! lol. Yes. It was a beer drinking song. And believe it or not, I’ve heard it in a Catholic church!!! But at least it was a beer drinking song, not something as hideous as putting a hymn to the music of “Barbara Allen”, one of the saddest and most tragic of all love/folk ballads. That was my most loathed hymn in the ‘new’ musical choices of the Lutheran church.

    David and I struggle somewhat with what you mentioned about in the church you felt you had to leave. There are times when, as I have jokingly told Carmen, we feel like Missionary Democrats in the foreign field. Thankfully, so far, we have found ways to respect each other. A truly dramatic thing happened one Sunday, when the priest’s own daughter refused to take Communion because the message he had preached was so rigid and exclusive that day. She made her point. He made his. They totally disagree, but somehow manage to love each other in Christ. I pray that that can continue, as we, too, have many, many loved ones in the home we are in now. As I have said – they are my family. I am glad you are beginning to feel at home again.

    Yours in Christ

    • Believe me, Patti, we have struggled with it too. There are times when have toyed with going back, but each time, something told us we shouldn’t, even today something else came up. One of my deepest convictions is that the body of Christ should not be divided, and you can pray that one day we’ll see our way clear to return. Curious that the Lord facilitated our departure so that most people were not aware that we had gone. Our closest friends have realized that our struggle was with the leadership, not them, but we remain on cordial terms with even the leaders.
      I know that Jesus spoke out most angrily and readily against the “shepherds” who were not shepherding God’s people but instead were saddling them with great burdens. For now, we’ll just wait. God is bringing some changes there, and he doesn’t necessarily need my poor power to add or detract.
      Walt

  19. I am glad you were able to leave so quietly. Unfortunately, the church we left was so small (we were two of the 10 choir members) that there was no way to be unnoticeable. That was a blessing for you. And where you are now, is a blessing for THAT Body of Christ.

    Yours in Christ

  20. Ooops….I also meant to say, goodnight all. Early bird here is crawling into bed with a good Golden Age (40’s) murder mystery and then sleep. Peace to all.

  21. Oh Walt, how hard that must have been for you, to leave a place you bloomed in for 30 years. I know what that is like, and it’s part of the pain that I continue to carry from “churches past”, the pain that has me at this point in time, being affiliated with None. It must have taken a lot for you to leave.

    This brings up something that I’m not sure fits….but this feels like a safe enough place to talk about it. OK, there’s the worship part at a church. And then there’s the part where you start to Get Involved. I really hear what Tim and Patti say about the beauty and connection to ancient symbolism that the worship service holds. Can a person stop there? Can a person just go on Sunday for that connection where God and others are worshipping God — and not volunteer for this committee or that support of the structure? Because if you don’t volunteer, you feel kind of bad, right? Who will keep the structure supported? Who will wash the communion cups and help make decisions on the paving of the parking lot?

    And then, after you start doing these things, and it works, you feel kind of an….ownership, right? Or at least a … stewardship? And when people come in with ideas that you think are not as effective as yours, you kind of bristle. “That’s not the way we’ve always done it…” And sides form — the side who believes the kitchen should be available to the youth on Fridays and the side who believes the youth will positively destroy the kitchen if they’re let alone………..

    Do you know what I’m talking about? It’s part of being church, you can’t deny it. Yes, there’s the beauty of the worship service where you feel so close to God. And then there’s the stuff where you have to get along with difficult people. It tests your faith in God. Should it? Or is this all some artificial construct we were never meant to make?

    Thank you all for reading this. I have many questions that may not have answers, and I hope I offend no one.

    • Hi Shelley: There’s a verse, Isaiah 40:31, which says that those who wait upon the Lord will soar with wings like eagles, etc.
      My question: How can I soar like an eagle when I have to live down here with all these turkeys???? huh??

      I’ve seen a lot of petty disputes in churches over stupid stuff…but they’re not stupid to the stake-holders….Welcome to the world of church politics…. 😦

  22. Its just Marketing.

    Marketing is used continuously because just as in the secular world,without people there is no church. And in todays sophisticated society, there is a fine dance between being current with people’s lifestyles in order to help them serve and be served, and being trendy with the devil…

    Unfortunately, if you use the term ” good business marketing” to a Christian serving within ministries (whether its the pastor, or the sunday school teacher, or the outreach corrdinator, etc. music director, the list goes on!) you will make most of them cringe because anything that has to do with a secular term that gives off a “business-y vibe”, most Christians serving and being served will be opposed to – it makes them sound more concerned with affairs of the world – and the teachings that say “be IN this world, but not OF this world apply. And no “good” Christian wants to be accused by their peers as being “OF” the current secular trends unless its “okay’ed” by God himself. Which is another story because how do you really know God wants the church to go with the sound monitor, new mix boards and the big screen system taht will put them in debt for 5 years unless we can get the congregation to chip in for it under the guise of “spreading the word better” when the money might be better for those who need it to be able to eat and sleep under a roof ? To be condemned in the Christian community as being “worldly” taints you for any ministry you may want to participate in as a volunteer or leader for the future, so they basically will use weasel God words to basically describe what is needed. yes, weasel God words.

    Pure worship of God can be done anywhere, at anytime. Jesus didnt speak about setting up churches; he talked about freedom.

      • I’ve experienced that first hand as well, Joan. I’m an auditor by trade (no, not the IRS) and used to do the diocese-required annual audit of our church. Like a lot of churches, its business practices left a lot to be desired. Nothing dishonest or questionable, but more like the lack of a coherent business plan and consistent spending practices. When I and a group of like-minded parishioners suggested the church develop a master financial plan and hire a good business manager, we were met by the kind of polite disdain one gets in one burps in the middle of prayers. It’s somehow unseemly to suggest the church runs its business affairs like a business, even though by doing so, it would have freed up additional funds for programs. I guess that’s an issue that crossed all denominations.

  23. It seems many, if not most, of us have endured the trauma of switching denominations, or of becoming one of the “unchurched” who still seek God. Perhaps that’s what’s drawn us to support Corinna in her quest. After a lifetime of being Roman Catholics, my wife and I became Episcopalians in 2004. I like to say we were “invited out” of the church. Years before 2004, we noticed a disturbing trend; the church was becoming ever-more hidebound by doctrine, and its leadership certainly wasn’t living up to what it preached to its members. The breaking point came during the 2004 election season. But before we left, we wrote our parish priest a letter describing our concerns and asking if some of things we heard were indeed church doctrine. We received a very courteous reply which, in essence, said , “yes”. By telling us the values we expressed were not acceptable, we were indirectly being invited out of the Roman Catholic Church.

    I use the term “invited out” because I prefer it to “left the church.” Looking back, I truly believe God had a hand in our decision, (we did pray about it beforehand). To be honest, we chose the Episcopal Church because there was one close to our house and we knew its structure and services were very similar to the Roman church, but without a lot of the institutional baggage. Since attending our first Mass, we have matured more in our faith and grown closer to God in the past nine years than we did in the previous 30. If God wanted us to be closer to Him and understand His will for us, He certainly chose to show us the right path.

    Not that we agree with every national church or local diocese policy. But at least there is a concerted effort to understand and respect each other and allow discussion, rather than rigidly impose doctrines with little or no relation to the New Testament. Nor has the past nine years been a cakewalk. One family member who is bound heart, soul, mind, and body to the Roman Catholic Church has never been able to come to grips with our decision.. There has been a constant stream of patronizing remarks and RC literature in the mail. At first I was angry, but then I came to accept she is acting out of concern for us, and she has a right to her opinion. If I judged her harshly, then I would merely be the mirror image of the church we left in 2004.

    After all this self-confession, my point is “church” can mean a lot of different things to different people. For some, it really is about the ritual and the doctrine; for others, it’s just another social club you join to maintain a certain status in the community. For most, I hope, it is truly the Body of Christ. Whether in a 13th century cathedral or a rented industrial hall, or in the forest or on skid row, “church” can be anywhere we gather in His name to share and spread His message.

  24. Friends,
    This series of replies has precipitated much thinking on my part…..many thought tumbling about over the top of one another. I am not sure I will be able to adequately lay out my response! Some of you who have been reading this blog all along know that I am Unitarian Universalist, and as such, we have no doctrine nor liturgy. The principles that hold our denomination together are more along the lines of the following: We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We support justice, equity and compassion in human relations. We believe in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. You get the idea…..I had a friend who once told me that he thought we had just picked up the best of all the world’s religions/belief systems. He is a solid Roman Catholic, and I am not certain that this assessment was a compliment. (I am smiling!) Anyway, you have all been talking about having The Message being the most important thing….that all the rest should support it.

    My church certainly has A Message…..but I wouldn’t say that it is as well-defined as the Churches you all are talking about. So I have been puzzled about why I felt such consternation….why I was so appalled when hearing about the cheer leaders and their pompoms….shaped like crosses or not!! Ha. Ha. This business of church as entertainment, I guess I would say, sticks in my craw! So although I am coming to this conversation from a different context, I seem to have become as much as a “fuddy-duddy” as Patti described herself!

    Recently as I was reading a book, I jotted down a phrase about life being “the wide plain where our persistent self lives.” It spoke to me….the vastness of life can be overwhelming, and I need to find shelter from the sun beating down and the winds which batter me one way and another….I need to find that grove of trees or that small lean-to where I might find shelter…. safety….calm. This is what my church is for me. It is a place which allows me to slow down….allows me to be present and open to all that is spiritual. To shake the busy-ness of my daily life and to seek out those things that will help make me a better human being. A simple thing….but as Patti says, that doesn’t make it simplistic.

    It concerns me that so many people have to have all this falderal and theatrics to get them into the Church building….which does not guarantee that they will get The Message! Or any message. It seems that we are losing that ability to slow down and examine the bigger issues in our lives…..if this is just the evolutionary process, as some of you have suggested, it seems religion is in trouble…….going to Church does get to be a social activity and when folks get too busy, and what happens on Sunday morning doesn’t seem to benefit them, they stay home. And I would bet that they don’t take time to slow down and think about life in the same way that we all seem to……although we may all be overachievers in this arena!!

    Some of you have talked about not having to be in a Church building to worship. I agree. This evening at the end of a trip for groceries, I sat in my car and listened to the Juilliard String Quartet on NPR….that was worship! But it was only because I was willing to stop and take time to be there. To listen. To be taken away…….and to come back more centered.

    Peace to all of you. Merrill

    .

    • I looked in my “pan” this morning and eureka! there was some gold! Thanks, Merrill!
      “…be willing to stop and take time to be there. To listen. To be taken away…….and to come back more centered… shake the busy-ness of my daily life and to seek out those things that will help make me a better human being.”
      I would say that is a pretty great description of worship.

    • So agree with you on that the message is simple – does not have to be complicated with horns and whistles and all!

      And maybe thats why the “church” needs to finally come clean and head off in a new direction in order to survive – be honest with what they are trying to achieve. Truth – Its a meeting place for people to gather and have fellowship with each other. So its a club. or volunteer organization that has a mission purpose – to help others while surviving itself, like Goodwill, Salvation Army, Kwanis club etc. Its not a good way to spread the message to those who dont understand or dont believe or havent heard Jesus’s words yet – In fact its downright wasteful with high overhead and donations based only on membership and generosity. So if church goers would understand that its for them, and not for outsiders and state that as truth, it may have a chance to survive – people want honesty upfront with those who they are donating to and encouraging…

      IMO Church for getting together with your friends and people who believe like you do, because you dont have to go to church to meet God – You can meet God anywhere. (Love strings – im such a Vivaldi fan lol!)

  25. Good morning everyone. Oh, my goodness! The thoughts swirling around in my head from reading the responses since i went to bed last night are overwhelming. I always check in first thing each morning, and get my ‘thoughts’ for the day. What is being talked about is so intense and so complex, and engenders such DENSE, for want of a better word, ideas in me that I don’t know where to start. Did you guys know you were so good for my brain, lol???

    Ok. homewithin? You have brought up something that is constantly in my thoughts, and right now, my husband’s. In the Lutheran church we first attended he became deeply enmeshed in the workings of the church – became a Elder in the church; wound up in charge of Stewardship, which involved both social and financial activities; it meant he was asked to prepare and deliver sermons, visit the sick, serve Communion with already blessed elements, and we were both in the choir, etc. To say it consumed a lot of our lives is putting it mildly. And it was a tiny church – no more than 40 members. THAT church we had to leave because we were transferred from Texas to North Carolina. In the next church we were in, he was not as deeply involved, but was involved. That was the one where they made the mistake of sending him to Synod, where he expressed his opinion of ‘contemporary’ worship in no uncertain terms, lol.

    When we came to our Anglican church, 11 years ago, he said “I am not sure that I can deal with ‘inner workings’ anymore. I almost lost my faith getting so involved in the day to day workings of the church.” So for 10 years, he was pretty much on the sidelines. Choir and helping me during our annual Michaelmas fair, or being part of the Dinner Theater, was the extent of his participation – I was the one who served on Vestry for 3 years and served on Committees and started programs/ministries.

    This year he got elected (against his better judgement, lol) to Vestry. And because he’s retired, he’s been asked to take on some duties around the church. We do ALL of the church upkeep/housekeeping ourselves – the parishioners, I mean. That is a lot of work. So far he is keeping his head above water.

    This brings me (albeit circuitously,) to homewithin’s question: “And then there’s the stuff where you have to get along with difficult people. It tests your faith in God. Should it? Or is this all some artificial construct we were never meant to make?

    To answer your first part (about can you just go and not be involved), I think that the answer is yes. My dearest friend of 40 years is a devout Catholic. She goes to church with absolute faithfulness. She does not know the name of anyone who attends mass with her. She does not participate in any of the committee work, or lay work of the church. What she DOES do, and it’s really the only important part, other than be a faithful worshiper, is financially support a number of charities (and Catholic charities do superb work), and without fail, she takes the list the church provides giving needs of the poor in the parish, does her shopping and takes it to church with her the next Sunday. She is also faithful in her prayers. She is, as far as I am concerned, doing “Church” quite well.

    It has been my experience that how well the ‘stuff’ gets done has a lot to do with the Shepherd of the church. Ours is an ex-Marine. Let me tell you!!! Ship shape and up to date doesn’t begin to cover it, lol. But what is most important is that he continuously impresses upon us that the ONLY point of all the social stuff that is done – Dinner Theaters, Italian Night, Polish Night, Michaelmas Fair, even how the church is run, etc, etc. is that it provides an opportunity for us to work together, in love, as Christians. That’s it. So that we may, as a Body of Christ, cherish each other and provide for each other.

    Are there spits and spats, OH YES! There have even been one or two memorable occasions when he has admonished behaviour (namely gossip) from the pulpit, no names mentioned, but those who were responsible knew who they were.

    Yes, it does test your faith in God, and YES, IT SHOULD. Because it boils down quite simply to the act of each of us loving each other as we love ourselves.

    I’m getting a bit long winded here, so I will close with a story and a thought. Our church does a full lunch every Sunday. Different women are “hostess” (and yes, husbands help, too) One Sunday I was it, and was prepping some barbeque I’d made and the buns for sandwiches. There is a certain woman in our church with the official status of “Church Woman” – lots of study, extra duties, etc. She is also a VERY strong personality. She was insisting that I do something, and I got a bit perturbed and basically said, “Let me do it the way I want.” As I was standing at the sink a few minutes later, washing my hands, she came up to me, put her arms around me and said “Please, forgive me. I shouldn’t have spoken as I did.” We shared the kiss of Peace. Neither of us wanted to go to Communion without being “in love and charity with our neighbor’.

    That is the story. The thought is this: No, even with the complexities of today’s church – committees, financial plans, etc. – it is not an artificial construct. I am willing to bet money that you would have found EXACTLY the same construct of problems in any of the early churches. People are people. We don’t change that much. That’s what Jesus is for, I think.

    If being like my friend, and participating in the beauty of the service but not the structure is what you need, then DO it. Don’t worry about it. If you can find a way, like my husband, to participate but do it on your own terms (he tells it like it is, when necessary, but nicely), then DO it. As Ginger said so well: “Just go worship somewhere!”

    I haven’t even begun to think through some of the other stuff said here – by Tim and Merrill. I think I have used my brain as much as possible for a bit. 🙂 🙂

    Thank you all and much love. I’ll talk to you later. My kitchen stove calls.

    Yours in Christ

  26. Stick with me on this one – it might get too basic…LOL

    Bibles,minister/pastor/priests, intellectual scholars, new & old buildings, music, powerpoint, …Jesus wasnt talking about forming churches and making sure everyone went to church and that everyone obeyed the church leaders and the church laws..For goodness sakes he was Jewish. Most “Christians” in today’s churches really shouldnt call themselves that – they should be called “Paulians” instead – that is who they actually follow – Paul’s words/rules/interpretations in his books as he wrote most church doctrine that you hear quoted today. The first physical “one church” really was formed by a government, abet though called “men of God” who gathered on behalf of Constantine’s request- they certainly had political reasons for defining what the rules were.

    In reading Corinna’s Blog comments by her readers (so much to learn and “listen” and share!) – I would ask that all who have participated take a step back and look intently here – you have created your own gathering (or what some would call a “church” lol) – politely encouraging each other towards common good, having the desire to worship your God freely without constraint, and responding to each other as you would want to be responded to..

    This is exactly what Jesus was talking about. His message is still fresh today as it was thousands of years ago.

    It really is that simple. No building nor bible required.

    • Janice, how simple. . . and yet, profound. Now, if I could just get off my committees – Ministry & Personnel, Nominating, and Session(I’m an Elder) . .. . ha ha!
      These comments have raised what has become a thorny issue for me, as well. I have reached a place in my life where I am questioning just what IS the purpose of church attendance. I would love to be one of the people on here who are so sure of themselves spiritually – it’s not me. However, since I feel committed to my responsibilities I cannot, in good conscience, just walk away. Plus, the child-like ‘wonder’ others have spoken about still strikes me at times. So I ‘waffle’. . .
      Thankfully all the ministers we have had don’t mind a challenge. . .

  27. You are right, Janice. It is basic. And no building or Bible is “required” to live the essence of Jesus teachings. What I would respectfully say is that I, personally, find strength and purpose and refreshment in both. The early church was communal. In fact, it was a close to perfect communism as has been got, if I’m allowed to use grammer that bad. When you live with Jesus’s teachings, it’s heartening and strengthening to be there for each other and to help each other. The earliest Christians may not have had a church, per se, but they did have their homes and their community.

    That is what I am talking about when i speak of Church. I just happen to enjoy the smells and bells of it, and I would miss them (again, personally) were they gone. Could I still worship??? You betcha. Do I need a Bible? It helps. My memory isn’t what it used to be.

    Yours in Christ.

  28. This is undoubtedly one of the best threads ever.

    Janice, I think you hit on something by saying that we here are something like a ‘church’ ourselves. Yes. We are all helping one another–most of us, I think–pursue a common goal, and it’s good to get together in this “cyberspace church”.

    Patti, I so appreciated what your shepherd said, which to me is the essence of church and worth repeating: ” the ONLY point of all the social stuff that is done – Dinner Theaters, Italian Night, Polish Night, Michaelmas Fair, even how the church is run, etc, etc. is that it provides an opportunity for us to work together, in love, as Christians. That’s it. So that we may, as a Body of Christ, cherish each other and provide for each other.” Hoorah for him!!

    Carmen, if any of us come across as being “spiritually sure of ourselves,” I think I can speak for all of us in saying that that would amount to BS or self-deception if any of us actually thought that way. I don’t think any of us who have stuck around on Corinna’s blog for very long would feel that way. I know that I don’t. Even though I may know more than some about Christianity, for example, there’s a HUGE difference between what’s in my head and what has actually broken into my headstrong heart. If you think your commitments at church are sucking you dry, it’s time to back off (that’s what Jesus did). If your people don’t understand that, you might wish to consider other options. I was a leader in my church for several years and took two “sabbaticals”. No one else ever did….but I knew that they would get along just fine without me.

  29. Hi Walt!
    Yes…we have a good shepherd, indeed. He is very near retirement age, and I dread the ‘interim’ period. Sigh. But he deserves to enjoy and ease down. I’m not sure when it will happen, but God will provide. And boy, do I agree with you on the difference between what is in my head and in my heart!!!! What I know I OUGHT and what I DO are so often completely different things.

    Carmen, I have to be completely honest and admit something: Sometimes, I would RATHER skip church!!!!!! Gasp, Oh My!!!! Yes. There are many times when those responsibilities you talk about become irritating and I would so much rather sleep late. And veg. And be lazy. Church, like any other good habit, is one we don’t always want to have.

    For me, the real purpose is Communion. No matter how much I would rather be lazy, or what a pain in the patootie it is to work on that committee or deal with someone who doesn’t like me very much, what I feel and receive from Communion gives me an hour’s oasis of peace and tranquility and the real presence of Christ. I can’t answer for you, but Walt is right about taking a sabbatical. If you will remember, Jesus also felt the need to get away from his Disciples!

    Yours in Christ

  30. Hi All—

    I don’t see a dichotomy between worshiping as an individual or in church. I think they’re two points in a broad spectrum of worship. If you read Jesus’ teachings, he advocates both forms of worship. He makes references to the church in at least two places in Matthew: when He tells Peter He will use him to build His church and again when He tells His disciples to bring an unrepentant sinner “to the church”. And of course, there’s the famous phrase, “Wherever two or more of your are gathered in my name, there I will be also.” Clearly, He excepts his followers to worship in a community setting. At the same time, He tells us to pray in private, and do good works in secret, so He also supports private, inward worship. Most of the first part of Acts is about how the early church had to organize itself as membership grew. The “elders” and “deacons” described in Acts became the foundation of the modern clerical structure.

    I see no conflict among these passages. When taken together, and in context, they tell us just how radical Jesus’ teaching was. Whereas the conventional wisdom of the time was that, as long you scrupulously followed every arcane tenet of the Law, you would be considered righteous in God’s eyes. Jesus said the most important thing is what is in your heart. Forget the outward show of pieties and, even more so, forget doing good works when your heart is set on how it will elevate your standing in the community. As T.S. Eliot said. “There is no greater sin, no greater treason; than to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”

    Jesus didn’t separate the individual from the church or community—He wants the whole package. He demands a total transformation from deep within, and radiating out to the community. First, we must accept His message in our hearts, souls, and heads; then our actions will naturally fall in line with His teaching. (“A bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”) Individual acts of worship naturally dovetail into worship in community, and good works flow from both. James tells us faith without works is dead. Works, by definition, happen in the community. Worship and acts can be done by the individual and by the church, because both are members of the Body of Christ.

    Paul makes this clear in his discussions of gifts. If one has the gift of teaching, let him teach, if one can give, let him give joyfully. The person, in an individual act of worship, offers his or her gifts by contributing to the efforts of the church as a whole. The church reaches out to the larger community, and also provides support to the individual member. It’s a great example of a symbiotic relationship; the sum is far greater than its parts.

    So, in my opinion, can one worship as an individual outside of an organized church? Yes. Can one worship as a member of an organized church? Yes. Its not an either/or proposition—they go hand in hand. I think the full meaning of worship can only be met when one enters into both individual and community worship. Of course, the meaning of “church” and “community” is not an organization or a building. As Janice said, this blog is a form of church, where we express our views and support one another. I like to think that if Jesus really has planted His message in our hearts, we can’t help but want to share it in a community setting, whether its an established church, an informal worship group, or a blog.

  31. Patti said:
    “Carmen, I have to be completely honest and admit something: Sometimes, I would RATHER skip church!!!!!! Gasp, Oh My!!!! Yes. There are many times when those responsibilities you talk about become irritating and I would so much rather sleep late. And veg. And be lazy. Church, like any other good habit, is one we don’t always want to have. ”

    Say it aint so, Patti! LOL! We attend the 8::a.m. Mass, and there are many days when I don’t want to roll out of bed. But I try to make it one of my few good habits. Like Jesus said. “Could you not spend just one hour with me?”

  32. Oh my goodness, Tim….thank you for reminding me of that particular piece of Scripture :). I have always felt so……….communally guilty…if you will, about that. There is an 8:30 mass at our church, but as I’ve said, it’s spoken, and we are in the choir, so we are 10:30. And even with that, there are still some mornings………………………

    As you said, I too, try to make it one of my few good habits. Thank you for your post above. One of my worst failings is that I rather tend to be ‘either/or’, and you are right….it should be hand in hand.

    Yours in Christ

    • Put a late Staurday night together wth a dull sermon and I’ll gurantee there’ll be some dozing going on in my pew!

      BTW, have you notcied how people tend to “stake out” certain pews? We’ve sat in the same place since we started and it would be too much of a shock to move. You should see the mayhem when we combine the 8:00 and 10:00 servcies!

      • You make me laugh. Should I get in to the brouhaha war that happened when a new choir member came in and sat in THE SPOT that belonged to another soprano??? When I say it came close to bloodshed, I lie not, lol.

        It also makes me think about what everyone on this thread seems to find the main concern and sometimes problem with Church. The people. Can you imagine anything more un-Christian that two women squabbling over who got which spot on the choir bench? And yet they did. And yet they ARE my fellow Christians. This is the perfect example of what I mean when I try to say “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

        Yes. I have my favorite spot on the choir pew. And since I am deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other, I need to be there to more easily read the Choir Director’s lips. So there!! LOL.

        • Good point, Patti. We shouldn’t equate the foibles of its human members for weakness of the church itself. In fact, many times I’ve come into church grumpy and in “pity me” mode, but left with a much improved outlook. People moved by the Spirit have a way of doing or saying the exact right thing at the right time, don’t they?

  33. This particular week makes me happy. While I can’t check the blog as regularly as you all do, I do love what you all bring to the table. You, and all the denominational varieties show how great the scope of God’s creativity is — it shows God’s glorious richness and I believe it makes Him happy. Reasons for going to church are many — we need some “hands-on” encouragement. We need to sing together and have the preacher catch our eye once in a while during the sermon. We need to give. We need to laugh and cry together, cook for each other and teach one another’s children. We need to stand with the newly baptized and encourage them. We need to practice grace when we step on each others’ toes. We don’t learn that one alone, although as Tim said, we are to practice our faith alone, too. You have all said it.

    “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching” Hebrews 10:24-25.

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